The recent elections and the surprises they have in store prompt us to examine the state of mind of the French people and their perception of the situation in the country. Are they objective, optimistic, pessimistic? It suffices to observe countries with a comparable level of development and to use the data provided by the OECD, to see that France offers more favorable living conditions than most of its neighbours.
Health indicators are favorable. Life expectancy is higher than that of many OECD countries, as is the state of health perceived by citizens; air pollution is lower, protection stronger, primary care is better guaranteed, health expenditure higher. As for economic and social well-being, it is not globally in danger. In France, the average income is slightly higher than the OECD average. With regard to the education system – and contrary to frequent defeatist analyzes – the average French score in the Pisa tests remains within the average.
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We could continue to list a string of favorable indices, but let us have the honesty to recognize a worrying deficit: if the overall level of satisfaction of the French is approximately in the average of the OECD (6.7/10), it remains a downside: satisfaction with income, at 4.3/10, is much lower than elsewhere.
The French evil is there. It is profound because it is not just about income but about the ingrained feeling of being disregarded.
The major question of purchasing power
Purchasing power, in all its dimensions, is today the major question that monopolizes minds, political debates and electoral promises. It has become a paralyzing obsession for the country. As early as June 2019, a report containing 24 proposals had been submitted to the Minister of the Economy, highlighting the consistency and even the interdependence between two necessities: the strengthening of economic performance and a better sharing of the value created.
Twenty months later, we, the Institute for Responsible Capitalism (ICR), a committed player in civil society, published the advocacy study “The New Sharing of Value”. This analysis established five recommendations for corporate governance bodies:
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- Contextualize and explain the dividend distribution policy by linking it to the strategy for creating and sharing value;
- Specify the method of calculation of the equity ratio with regard to the impact on the internal compensation policy;
- Align the subcontracting and purchasing policy with ESG commitments and the company’s raison d’être;
- Formulate precisely the link between the raison d’être, the creation and the sharing of value, by measuring the state of progress using medium and long-term indicators;
- Make the value sharing policy a subject in its own right under the responsibility of the Board, closely integrated into the process of drawing up and approving the strategic plan.
These avenues for inflection in practices have been widely shared, the objective being to guarantee the sustainability of the liberal framework of our economy, by involving more and more – upstream and downstream – all the actors who contribute to the long-term performance, in the service of the country’s prosperity, and far from the chimeras of radical protests.
Be more attentive to expectations and suggestions
A year later, it is clear – especially at general meetings – that the major listed companies have not acted on these recommendations, or far too little. However, the survival of the social pact is at stake. No leader can ignore the danger posed by inaction on such a sensitive subject. Everyone must be more attentive to expectations and suggestions.
Faced with various threats (climate crisis, conflicts and international tensions, risks of recession and inflation, social unrest, etc.), it is urgent to modify the management method – or to accelerate the pace of transformations – and to demonstrate concrete progress on each of our recommendations, all conducive to consensus between civil society, elected officials and businesses.
In the same spirit, the President of the Republic has just embarked on the path of the employee dividend, the highlight of a bill of March 2022 aimed at conditioning the payment of dividends on that of an employee dividend. This measure responds to the purchasing power crisis and seems essential in the context of the political and social tensions of 2022. Complementary to the employee dividend because it is focused on the long term, employee shareholding (in connection with the valuation of company) should be extended well beyond listed companies. Since 1er July, It is once again possible to pay employees a bonus “value sharing” exempt from social charges under certain conditions.
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Purchasing power: who really benefits from the Macron bonus?
But to definitively get out of the resentment that animates many French people and preserve national cohesion by contributing to the increase in purchasing power, it will be necessary to go further than the employee dividend. It is a question of bridging part of the gap which is widening more and more between on the one hand the employees, including the employees receiving profit-sharing, and on the other hand the holders of the capital whose share sometimes increases over years in considerable proportions. There is a simple way to reduce this long-term asset gap: generalize stock options for employees, instead of reserving them for a small cohort of managers.
Everything must be done to establish proximity – rather than confrontation – between the different forces that contribute to the spirit of collective adventure that characterizes and defines the company, failing which this spirit could disappear. The company must remain a breeding ground for enthusiastic confidence in the future. For leaders, it’s about being one step ahead, not behind, doing something extraordinary, new and daring, showing themselves as pioneering spirits rather than overly conservative often braced on routine. This is what real “leadership” must be in 2022.
Caroline de la Marnierre is founding president of the Institute of Responsible Capitalism (ICR); Clara Gaymard, Raise Co-Chair and ICR Board Member; Philippe Peuch-Lestrade, member of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and of the college of experts of the ICR.